Guilford College faculty plan to protest decision to outsource housekeeping

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Workers set up a sound system for commencement exercises at Guilford College on Friday afternoon. (photo by Jordan Green)

A group of faculty members plans to protest an administrative decision to outsource the jobs of 18 custodial workers during commencement exercises at Guilford College tomorrow.

The college acknowledged today that, beginning next week, the custodial workers will begin working under contract with WFF, a custodial services company that serves higher education institutions.

In a press release, faculty members said they plan to “participate in actions to express concern” about the decision to outsource the jobs, adding that the unspecified actions will not disrupt the graduation ceremony “because faculty want students to be able to celebrate their accomplishments with their friends and families.”

The college acknowledged that the decision to outsource housekeeping was made without the employees’ input.

“One of the reasons so many of us love Guilford College so much is that this is a college at which values are taken seriously,” said Associate Professor of Political Science Maria Rosales, one of the faculty members participating in the protest. “This decision, which directly harms low-paid women of color without even asking them for their input, is out of line with any reasonable definition of those values.”

The college said in a statement today that the decision to outsource housekeeping to WFF “not only serves the best interests of Guilford College” but also provides the custodial workers “with enhanced opportunities for professional support and development in their work.”

The college’s Administrative and Finance division initiated the process with the aim of enhancing services while cutting costs, the college said, and President Jane Fernandes made the final decision to implement it. Administration contends outsourcing will save the college money in the long run, but acknowledged the operational cost will only be slightly less while the move will allow WFF to hire two additional full-time employees at the college. “WFF will be able to provide the proper training, the best tools for getting the job done, and professional management of the function at a level that is not possible internally,” the college said. “They are professionals at supervising and training custodial staff.”

The college said housekeeping staff will retain tuition benefits and provide seamless health, dental and vision benefits until WFF’s benefits kick in on Aug. 1. Roger Degerman, a spokesperson for the college, said that the custodial workers will keep retirement savings accrued through their employment with the college, but that WFF does not offer retirement benefits, consistent with the industry standards.

The college also said WFF will hire the custodial workers back at their current salaries. But their faculty allies said college’s decision to jettison the workers denies them a raise for which they would have become eligible in June. Faculty members noted that the decision to outsource housekeeping services comes at a time when the college has publicly committed to ensuring a living wage to employees as part of a Compensation Plan endorsed by administration in 2017.

“The claim that the Compensation Plan will no longer apply to outsources employees is disingenuous at best,” said Jim Hood, a faculty member who served on the committee that developed the plan. “It is the very act of outsourcing the housekeeping employees that violates the plan itself, which guarantees a living wage (for the Greensboro area) at minimum to all employees and includes provision that ‘benefits are allocated equitably.’”

The college disputes Hood’s characterization.

“To the contrary, we insisted on a contract that ensures all 18 housekeeping staff members will maintain their salaries — which are well above the living wage and the industry average,” Degerman said.

Degerman argued that the outsourcing decision “is wholly consistent with our core values.” He added, “We are proud to off this opportunity to our housekeeping staff, whom we value deeply and always will.”

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